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On July 26, 2005, at 1552 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-28-181, N59RK, was substantially damaged when it collided with a moving sport utility vehicle (SUV), on a public roadway, while on final approach to Joseph's Airport (DE49), Georgetown, Delaware. The driver and passenger of the SUV were fatally injured. The certificated private pilot, and the two passengers were seriously injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local personal flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
According to the pilot, the airplane departed DE49 for a sight seeing flight along the coastline. The flight proceeded at varying altitudes in-land of the Indian River Inlet Bridge to Bethany Beach, and then returned to DE49.
The pilot stated that during final approach to runway 33, the rate of descent appeared greater than he was comfortable with so he increased power, but did not make a large adjustment because he did not want the airplane to "porpoise." The pilot briefly saw a vehicle approaching from his left on the road, but expected that the airplane would clear it. He also stated that he was focused on the runway for the landing and that the collision was "firm" and a "surprise."
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine-land. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) third-class medical certificate was issued on November 9, 2005. According to his pilot logbooks, he had accrued 337 total hours of flight experience, and 244 hours in the accident airplane make and model.
The aircraft was a single-engine, four-place airplane manufactured in 1995. The airplane's most recent annual inspection was completed on October 17, 2004, and at that time it had accumulated 750.5 total hours of operation.
The reported weather at Sussex County Airport (GED), Georgetown, Delaware, 3 nautical miles north of the accident site, at 1554, included: calm winds, 10 miles visibility, skies clear below 12,000 feet, temperature 93 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 66 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 29.86 inches of mercury.
Both jet powered and propeller driven airplanes operated into and out of Joseph's Airport. It had one runway, oriented in a 33/15 configuration. The runway was asphalt, and in good condition. The total length of the runway was 4,564 feet, and its total width was 60 feet. The approach end of runway 33 was 17.8 feet from the edge of the westbound lane of county road 432.
Additionally, another public use roadway in close proximity to the departure end of the runway, and trees about 60 feet in height were located approximately 900 feet from the runway end and approximately 100 feet from both sides of the runway.
A review of Sectional Charts and aerial photographs taken on May 2, 1968 revealed that at one time the runway was turf-covered and 3,400 feet long. Between the times the photographs were taken in 1968 and in 1992, the runway had been lengthened, widened and paved. No displaced threshold or standardized runway markings were present on either runway.
A Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) contractor conducted a survey of both runway ends on July 27, 2005. Measurements taken by the contractor showed that in order to establish the FAA recommended 20-to-1 obstacle clearance plane to the runway, as depicted in the Air Transportation Inspector's Handbook, FAA Order 8400.10, the threshold for runway 33 would need to be displaced approximately 300 feet. This would assure a 15-foot clearance height above the public use roadway. The threshold for runway 15 would need to be displaced approximately 1,334 feet in order to provide the recommended obstacle clearance of the trees on the approach end of the runway.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The vehicle involved was a 1991 GMC S-15 sport utility vehicle. It was blue in color. Its curb weight was approximately 3,776 pounds, and its height was about 64 inches.
The SUV was traveling in the eastbound lane of County Road 432 directly adjacent to runway 33, when it was struck by the airplane. County Road 432 was a state maintained, two-lane asphalt roadway, with one lane for westbound traffic and one lane for eastbound traffic, and was bordered by grassy areas. In the area of the collision, the roadway curved slightly to the right for eastbound traffic. Solid yellow double lines separated the travel lanes. In addition, black on yellow signs advising of "low flying aircraft" were posted 580 feet east and 169 feet west of the runway.
Examination of the roadway revealed skid marks from the SUV that crossed the midpoint of the roadway, along with scrape marks and gouges that indicated the general direction of travel for both the airplane and the SUV. Evidence of fuel spillage was present in the form of a pooling mark that was approximately 33 feet long by 5 feet wide, and located in the westbound lane. Multiple white colored paint chips were present in the eastbound travel lane and grassy area immediately south of the roadway.
Ground scarring at the accident site led from the impact point through a break in a white vinyl fence to the SUV, on a heading of 025 degrees magnetic. The ground scarring stopped at the approximate location where the SUV came to rest. The SUV was on its left side 20 feet east of the approach end of runway 33 and it was consumed by a fire.
Examination of the SUV revealed a vertical depression, approximately midway along its right side, extending from the running board to the top of the roof. Propeller strikes, measured at a 42-degree angle to the SUV's longitudinal axis, were visible on both a radiator support member and the engine compartment hood. A 6-inch by 12-inch triangular section of the left forward portion of the hood was located in the grass by the end of the runway, and its inner edge, which exhibited a propeller cut line, corresponded to the propeller strike mark on the SUV's hood.
A portion of the left wing root, along with the pilot's storm window, were located close to where the SUV came to rest.
Examination and measurements of the asphalt runway revealed that propeller gouge marks, scrapings, tire marks, and fuel discoloration marks were present for 110 feet on an approximate heading of 360 degrees. This was measured from the edge of the pavement of runway 33 and -led up to the main wreckage of the airplane.
The main wreckage of the airplane, came to rest against the white vinyl fence, 154 feet north of the initial impact point with the SUV, on a heading of 320 degrees.
Damage to both the leading edge and wing root area of the left wing corresponded to the pillar and roofline on the right side of the SUV. Visible blue colored paint transfer marks were evident. An approximate- 2-foot by 1-foot scrape mark was also observed below the left window line, forward of the wing root, that corresponded to the radius of the forward roofline windshield pillar junction of the SUV. The empennage, which included the vertical stabilizer, horizontal stabilator, and the rudder, were also examined. The left portion of the horizontal stabilator also displayed impact damage along the leading edge for an approximately 2-foot length, and was partially separated from the airframe.
Examination of the flight and trim control cables, runs, and associated hardware did not reveal any evidence of a preexisting jam or failure. Control continuity was established for all control surfaces. Flap panel positions differed in extension positions, and the internal flap drive mechanism and flap panels exhibited deformation and impact damage.
The fuel tanks were compromised; however, approximately 5 gallons of fuel was still present in the right tank.
The landing gear exhibited differing degrees of damage to the wheel pants and landing gear assemblies. The right main landing gear remained attached to its mounts. The nose landing gear assembly was separated from the airplane, with the upper half partway into the engine compartment, and exhibited blue colored paint transfers along portions of the oleo strut and scissors assembly. The left main landing gear had also separated from its mounts, and its wheel pant access door was found in the grass, abeam the south side of the roadway.
Examination of the cockpit area revealed that the attitude indicator displayed a 35-degree left bank and a 16-degree negative pitch angle. The directional gyro was aligned to 312 degrees, with the heading bug indicating 085 degrees. The throttle control was approximately 1/4-inch aft of the full throttle position. The mixture control was about 1 inch aft of the full rich setting. The carburetor heat control was positioned to the cold setting. The friction lock for the throttle control and mixture control was in the off position. The rudder trim adjustment knob indicator indicated neutral, and the pitch trim control wheel indicator indicated full nose down. The flap selector handle was in the 25-degree detent.
The crankshaft was rotated through the crankshaft propeller flange. Thumb compression and valve train continuity were confirmed to all cylinders. The top and bottom spark plugs of all cylinder heads were removed, and their electrodes were intact and light gray in color. Both the left and right magnetos were removed from the engine case. When rotated by hand, both magnetos produced spark on all towers.
Oil was present throughout the engine, and no metal contamination was observed in the oil or oil filter element. The oil pump assembly was intact, and no damage was noted. The oil sump pickup screen was absent of debris.
Disassembly of the carburetor revealed residual fuel remaining in the bowl. When the carburetor accelerator pump was actuated, fuel was observed. The carburetor finger screen was absent of debris. Operation of the mechanical fuel pump was confirmed by hand. The electric fuel pump screen was also removed, and no contaminates were observed.
Fuel samples taken from the mechanical fuel pump, hose, and carburetor were free of contaminants. The fuel was consistent in color with 100LL aviation gasoline, and no water was detected when tested with water finding paste.
The propeller assembly remained attached to the crankshaft flange. One blade displayed curling, leading edge gouging, and chordwise scratching. The other blade had separated at approximately 2/3-span with asphalt embedded in the fractured surface. The separated portion of the blade was recovered in the debris path.
No evidence of preimpact malfunctions of the powerplant and fuel system was discovered.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Blood alcohol analysis of a sample of the pilot's blood was conducted by the Delaware State Police Crime Laboratory. No concentrations of alcohol were discovered.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The density altitude was calculated to be 2,514 feet, and according to the manufacturer, climb performance would have been approximately 620 feet per minute at the airplane's maximum certificated weight of 2,550 pounds.
The wing flaps were manually operated and spring-loaded to return to the up position. An over-center lock was incorporated in the actuating linkage to hold the flap when it is in the up position so that it may be used as a step on the right side of the airplane. The flaps had three extended positions, 10, 25, and 40 degrees.
The pilot stated that for the last year or two, he occasionally experienced "infrequent" difficulty engaging the flap control lever in the position desired. He advised that the problem would occur when trying to engage the "third notch," and that sometimes it would not immediately engage. He also stated that very infrequently, he had trouble with the "second notch," and that he could not remember if he had ever asked a mechanic to address this issue.
He further stated that during the accident flight, when he initially put in the "first notch" of flaps, everything went as expected. He was not certain what happened next, but believed that while focusing on the runway and setting the "first notch" of flaps, the sink rate became greater than desired. He grabbed the flap lever, but sensed that somehow, it was already in the "third notch," and he tried unsuccessfully to engage the "second notch." Since the flaps would not engage in the "second notch," he reselected the "third notch" and applied more power. At that point the SUV passed underneath the airplane, and the collision occurred.
During a postaccident examination of the flap system no anomalies or preimpact damage were discovered.
According to FAA-H-8083-3, The Airplane Flying Handbook, if the touchdown spot is being "undershot" and a shallower approach is needed; the power and pitch attitude should be increased to readjust the descent angle and the airspeed. It also stated that the pilot should "never retract the flaps to correct for undershooting since that will suddenly decrease the lift and cause the airplane to sink even more rapidly."
Examination of the airplane wreckage revealed that the air conditioning switch was in the "on" position, the air conditioning fan switch was on "high," and the air conditioning condenser door was in the open position.
According to the manufacturer, to insure maximum climb performance the air conditioner must be turned off manually before takeoff to disengage the compressor and retract the condenser door. Also, the air conditioner must be turned off manually before the landing approach in preparation for a possible go-around.
Power from the engine was required to run the compressor, and the condenser door, which when extended, would have caused a slight increase in drag. The climb performance normally would not have been significantly reduced with the air conditioner operating, since the compressor would be declutched and the condenser door would have retracted automatically when the "full throttle" position was selected. When the full throttle position is not used, or in the event of a malfunction which would have caused the compressor to operate and the condenser door to be extended, a decrease in the rate of climb of as much as 100 feet per minute could be expected.
According to the pilot, when the "rate of descent" appeared greater than he was comfortable with he did increase power, but did not give it much adjustment.
No preimpact anomalies were noted with the air conditioning system. Postaccident functional tests of the throttle limit switch, condenser door actuator, and condenser door light, confirmed that the system would declutch the compressor, and retract the condenser door when the full throttle position was selected.
A review of the airplane manufacturer's procedural checklist showed that on both the Before Takeoff Checklist and the Approach and Landing Checklist, the air conditioner should be selected to "off."
A review of the aftermarket "procedure checklist" found in the wreckage revealed that no information pertaining to the air conditioner was contained in either the Before Takeoff Checklist or the Approach and Landing Checklist.
Further investigation revealed that its publisher developed the aftermarket "procedure checklist" by utilizing information that was contained in the 1977 to 1979 Piper Archer II Information Manual, which referred to the air conditioning system as an option, and was not included in the Normal Procedures section.
Starting in 1980, the airplane manufacturer incorporated the air conditioning procedures in both the checklist and Normal Procedures section of the Piper Archer II Information Manual.
According to the Air Transportation Inspector's Handbook, FAA Order 8400.10, an obstruction is a man-made or natural object, which must be cleared during takeoff and landing operations. While fixed towers and buildings can readily be identified as possible obstructions, obstruction heights over roadways, railroads, waterways and other traverse ways are not so readily apparent. Unless the airport authority or operator determines that no movable objects will project into the airspace over the previously listed passageways when an airplane flies over, obstructions are considered to exist.
Since the original issuance in 1965, the FAA had publicly promulgated FAA Advisory Circular 150/5300, titled "Airport Design." This document, which was mandatory for airport projects receiving federal grant-in-aid assistance, described the standards and recommendations for airport projects. Though not required for airport projects that do not receive grant-in-aid assistance, these standards were "recommended by the FAA" for use in the design of all civil airports.
The Advisory Circular also discussed the "State ['s] role" in airport development. It advised that some states administer a financial assistance program and technical advice, and that "many state aeronautics commissions or similar departments require prior approval and, in some instances, a license for the establishment and operation of an airport." Guidance regarding airport functions including the needs of the community, approval of airport layout plans, the evaluation of an airport's impact upon the safety of persons and property on the ground, and how runway location and orientation are "paramount to airport safety" were included.
Information regarding obstruction surveys, which may affect airplane operations, was also included, as was object clearing criteria that would require certain areas on and near an airport be clear of objects. Additionally, runway protection zone information to enhance the protection of people and property on the ground, runway threshold requirements, and runway safety areas, which enhance the safety of airplanes which undershoot, overrun, or veer off a runway were also addressed.
State of Delaware Private Use Airport Oversight
During this investigation, it was discovered that the state could not oppose the presence of objects or activities in the vicinity of private use airports that would conflict with the standards outlined in the advisory circular.
A Delaware Aviation Advisory Council was supposed to assist DelDOT in furthering and promoting the interests of aviation in the State of Delaware, however; neither the council, DelDot, or the State of Delaware's code of regulations provide for oversight of private takeoff and landing areas.
A search of the FAA's airport database revealed that approximately 50 private takeoff and landing areas existed in the state and according to DelDot, due to Delaware's growth rate, many areas of the state had begun to encroach on these private facilities.
In a survey conducted by the Safety Board during August and September of 2006, it was determined that of the 50 states, 24 states provided licensing of private airports, 23 of which also conducted inspections.
The State of Delaware was one of six states that did not have some type of dedicated licensing or inspection program.