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On April 30, 2006, about 1305 Pacific daylight time, an experimental Russell RV-6, N655VT, lost engine power during takeoff and nosed over in soft terrain during a forced landing at Furnace Creek Airport, Death Valley National Park, Death Valley, California. The owner/pilot was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The private pilot sustained fatal injuries, and the passenger sustained serious injuries. The airplane sustained substantial damage. The cross-country personal flight was originating at the time of the accident, with a planned destination of Redlands, California. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed. The approximate global positioning system (GPS) coordinates of the primary wreckage were 36 degrees 27.07 minutes north latitude and 116 degrees 52.32 minutes west longitude.
Witnesses reported that the accident pilot radioed that he was having fuel problems. Then they saw the airplane attempt to land just south of the airport. The airplane touched down on soft sand and nosed over.
First responders to the accident sight reported that the pilot was wearing his shoulder and lap belt. The passenger reported that when the pilot told her they were going to land, she tightened her shoulder belt.
During the recovery of the airplane the recovery crew reported that both fuel tanks contained a substantial amount of fuel.
A review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman records revealed that the pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land, multiengine land, and instrument airplane.
The pilot held a second-class medical certificate issued on May 11, 2004. It had the limitation that the pilot must wear corrective lenses. An examination of the pilot's logbook indicated an estimated total flight time of 1,856 hours. He logged 17 hours in the last 90 days, and 6 hours in the last 30 days. He had an estimated 122 hours in this make and model.
The airplane was a Ronald Russell experimental RV-6, serial number 60536. A review of the airplane's logbooks revealed that the airplane had a total airframe time of 94.2 hours at the last conditional inspection. The last inspection was dated January 8, 2006. The Hobbs hour meter read 124.5 at the accident site.
The engine was a Superior X-IO-360-B1CA2, serial number 05631. Total time recorded on the engine at the last conditional inspection was 94.2 hours.
The closest official weather observation station was Desert Rock Airport, Mercury, Nevada (DRA), which was located 42 nautical miles (nm) east of the accident site. The elevation of the weather observation station was 3,314 feet mean sea level (msl). An aviation routine weather report (METAR) for DRA was issued at 1253. It stated: winds were variable at 3 knots; visibility 10 miles; skies clear; temperature 30 degrees Celsius; dew point 01 degrees Celsius; and altimeter 29.92 inHg.
The Airport/ Facility Directory, Southwest U. S., indicated that Furnace Creek Airport runway 15 was 3,065 feet long and 70 feet wide. The runway surface was asphalt.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Inyo County Coroner completed an autopsy on the pilot. The FAA Bio-aeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological testing of specimens of the pilot. Analysis of the specimens contained no findings for carbon monoxide, cyanide, and volatiles.
The report contained the following findings for tested drugs: Naproxen was detected in blood.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The FAA and Superior Engines were parties to the investigation.
Investigators examined the wreckage at Aircraft Recovery Service, Littlerock, California, on June 16, 2006.
The airplane examination revealed that both battery, and the left and right ignition circuit breakers were tripped open.
The electrical/system switches were in the following positions:
· Electrical master: ON
· Battery 2: OFF
· Landing Lights Left and Right: ON
· Strobe lights: ON
· Navigation lights: ON
· Fuel pump: ON
· Field: ON
Visual inspection of the cockpit revealed that the throttle control was FULL FORWARD, the propeller control was FULL INCREASE (Low Pitch), and the mixture was FULL RICH. The carburetor heat control was in the OFF position. The fuel selector was in the LEFT position. The starter was in the BOTH position and the key was bent. When the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC) tried to remove the key, it broke off inside the switch.
Seat belts and shoulder harnesses were present in the aircraft. The pilot's shoulder harness was attached but cut and loosely fastened.
The IIC turned off the fuel pump and master switch, and pushed in the popped circuit breakers. The master switch was then turned on and the starter was turned to the BOTH position. No circuit breakers popped.
The airplane was lifted by a forklift and strapped down for engine examination. The spinner and bottom engine cowling were removed. A homemade marker beacon antenna was attached to the bottom cowling and was removed by the IIC. The throttle and mixture controls were properly connected and their positions were consistent with the positions of the controls in the cockpit. The propeller governor was in the full rpm position, which corresponded to the cockpit controls.
The engine had an experimental ignition system with automotive DENSO W27EMR-C spark plugs. The top spark plugs were removed and a borescope was used to examine the condition of cylinder number 1. Investigators attempted to turn the propeller by hand, but it stuck after one revolution; it appeared to be caused by the formation of rust in the number 2 cylinder.
The fuel distributor was removed and found to contain no fuel. The fuel servo and the fuel line from the servo to the distributor contained only trace amounts of fuel. The fuel line from the mechanical fuel pump to the fuel servo contained no fuel. The electric boost pump cover was removed and the fuel filter was opened. The fuel filter contained fuel residue that looked and smelled like aviation fuel. The filter also contained a small piece of aluminum.
The oil dipstick was removed, and indicated 8 quarts of clean oil was present in the oil sump.
Investigators cleaned the number 2 cylinder and sprayed penetrating oil in the cylinder through the spark plug hole. They were then able to manually rotate the engine. During the first two propeller rotations it experienced friction. After more turning, the propeller began rotating freely. The IIC turned on the master switch and turned the ignition switch to both. The propeller rotated freely.
The wings had been removed from the airplane during recovery. A fuel can was connected to the fuel inlet lines to provide fuel to the system. The fuel pump was turned ON, but there was no indication that it was operating. The IIC found that the electrical lines to the electrical driven fuel pump had been cut during the recovery process. The electrical driven fuel pump could not be energized, and was removed to facilitate a functional test. The fuel pump was clear of debris, and was inoperative.
The electrical driven fuel pump manufacturer, Airflow Performance, was contacted. A representative stated that the fuel pump would run dry for 1 to 2 minutes before a failure would occur.
Investigators noted that the engine driven fuel pump remained attached to the fuel system and had not been compromised during the accident. A ground run was conducted. The mixture was set to the full rich position and the throttle was increased to full forward. The battery was turned on and fuel was connected to the system. The master switch was turned on and the starter was engaged. The engine started, but after a few seconds, the engine quit due to fuel starvation. More fuel was added and the engine was restarted, and a magneto check was performed, with no discrepancies noted with the magneto check. The tachometer had been removed from the airplane, but the sound of the rpm drop corresponded to normal operation. [The engine was started on three separate occasions]. The propeller had been cut due to damage during the accident, so the engine was not run at full power.
A search of the web site for the manufacturer of the electrical fuel pump revealed an optional fuel purge system that would allow the pilot to purge hot fuel from the fuel lines with cooler fuel to help prevent vapor lock. The accident airplane was not equipped with the fuel purge system. The accident airplane's fuel system was installed so if the electric fuel pump became inoperative and the pump was not blocked, the engine driven fuel pump would be able to draw fuel out of the fuel tanks.
There was further inspection of the fuel tanks on July 18, 2006. The right wing fuel tank had an inverted fuel pick-up per the airplane plans. The left wing fuel tank pick-up was standard. The IIC used a metal cutter to cut holes in the top of the fuel tanks. The left fuel tank pick-up was clean with no debris. Air was blown into one end with no blockage. The right tank pick-up was clean with no debris and free of blockage.
According to FAA Advisory Circular AC 20-27F, Certification and Operation of Amateur-Built Aircraft, "Amateur builders are free to develop their own designs or build from existing designs. We do not approve these designs and it would be impractical to develop design standards for the wide variety of design configurations, created by designers, kit manufacturers, and amateur builders."