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On September 28, 2006, approximately 1550 mountain daylight time (MDT), a single-engine Weber Venture homebuilt airplane, N5QE, was substantially damaged following a loss of control during the landing roll at the El Paso International Airport (ELP) near El Paso, Texas. The commercial pilot, sole occupant of the airplane, was fatally injured. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal cross-country flight. The cross-country flight was reported to have originated from the Collin County Regional Airport (TKI), near McKinney, Texas, at an unknown time.
The airplane landed on Runway 22 at ELP airport (a 150-foot wide by 12,020-foot long asphalt runway). According to witnesses who observed the airplane land, the airplane either "jerked violently to the left" or "wobbled from side to side" upon touchdown. The airplane then continued to taxi down the runway for about 7,000 feet before control of the airplane was lost, and the airplane nosed-over and came to rest in an inverted position on the runway. A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector, who examined the airplane at the accident site, noted several "propeller strikes" on the runway prior to the resting place of the airplane. The vertical stabilizer was bent rearward, the canopy was shattered, and the bulkhead located just behind the occupant's seats was pushed into the fuselage.
The FAA inspector found no evidence of a gear/brake failure on the airplane. However, he did report "a lot of play" in the landing gear.
Prior to his departure from TKI, the pilot received a weather briefing and filed a flight plan. After departure, the pilot reported a problem retracting the landing gear to the control tower and returned for a normal landing. Personnel at the airport reported that the pilot addressed an issue with a "popped" fuse for the landing gear, and the airplane departed for ELP later in the day. The tower controller also reported to the NTSB Investigator-in-Charge (IIC), that he remembered the airplane while landing at TKI (several days earlier), because "it looked like he was going to crash [on landing]."
Additionally, while at TKI, the pilot mentioned to a couple of people that a crack had developed in the airplane's canopy. The canopy was not replaced, but a temporary repair was accomplished so that he could fly the airplane back to his home in California.
The Venture Model 20 airplane is an all-metal 2-place, retractable gear, low-wing airplane, which the builder assembles from a manufactured kit. The airplane is generally registered in the Experimental Amateur-Built category and powered by a 300-horsepower reciprocating Continental IO-550 series engine. The original kit manufacturer Questair, went out of business and a new company, NuVenture Aircraft presently markets the kits.
There have been numerous aviation articles and on-line discussion by pilot/builders, who have pointed out the deficiency of the Venture's original landing gear arrangement. One problem noted was with the main landing gear's air/oil gear struts. The correct air/oil ratio and strut inflation is critical in proper operation of the strut. An improperly inflated strut reportedly results in a "spongy" strut, which can aggravate directional control problems on the airplane.
The original nose landing gear consists of a strut with a single-rod steering system and was not designed with gear scissors and/or a shimmy damper. In April 2001, for the prevention of nose wheel shimming on landing, the kit manufacturer recommended that pilots should "lower the nose tire promptly, and keep it on the ground with forward stick pressure if necessary."
The original design of the airplane's canopy is a molded one-piece acrylic sheet around the occupants. Additionally, the canopy is designed such that the acrylic is hinged and latched directly to the mating fuselage without the means of a structural frame. Furthermore, the bulkhead behind the occupants lacks additional rollover protection, due to the absence of a "rollover" bar.
The kit manufacturer offers an optional kit to upgrade the original main landing gear strut air/oil mixture ratio, making the strut more "rigid." An experienced builder, who worked with the aircraft kit's original designer, also offers a redesign of the nose gear strut that incorporates a scissor link and a double-rod shimmy damper. In order to help seal and strengthen the canopy system, several builders have incorporated their own modification, by adding a graphite frame around the edge of the airplane's acrylic canopy, which creates some rollover protection. Another option for additional rollover protection is laying in a carbon-fiber tow, on the bulkhead located just behind the occupants.
The landing gear arrangement on N5QE was the original configuration, except for a small spring, which had been added to the steering fork and a hydraulic operating steering system (activated by a switch on the control stick). However, a scissor-link/shimmy dampener was not added. In addition, the builder had not incorporated the addition of a canopy frame or a rollover bar. The main landing gear struts were also reported to be inflated to about one-and-a-half inches, instead of the recommended three-eighths to one-half inch of extension.
The El Paso International Airport (ELP) is located 4 miles northeast of El Paso, Texas, at an elevation of 3,958 feet. The airport has an operating control tower, and is within Class C airspace. The airport features three runways; Runway 4/22 is by 12,020-foot long and 150-foot wide asphalt runway, Runway 8R/26L is 9,025-foot long and 150-foot wide, with an asphalt surface, and Runway 8L/26R is 5,493-foot long by 75-foot wide, with an asphalt surface. The general aviation ramp is located on the south side of the aerodrome and near the intersection of Runway 4 and taxiway Echo (extended centerline of Runway 8R).
The 77-year old pilot held a commercial pilot certificate for both single-engine land and multi-engine land with a rating for instrument airplane. He also was a certificated flight instructor for airplane single-engine land, multi-engine land, and instrument airplane. The pilot held a glider rating as well. His last FAA third class medical was issued in June 2006.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Office of the Medical Examiner and Forensic Laboratory of El Paso, Texas, performed an autopsy on September 29, 2006. The report lists the cause of death as; blunt force trauma to the head and neck, as a result of the accident.
Toxicological testing was conducted by the FAA Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The results were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, and ethanol.
At 1551 MDT, the automated weather observing system at ELP, reported a variable wind at 4 knots, 10 statute miles visibility, few clouds at 8,000 feet, temperature 81 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 46 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 30.15 inches of Mercury.
A review of the FAA's registration database reveals approximately 55 Questair Ventures on file. A builder's support group is available on-line, and the group's moderator estimated that about 25 of the airplanes are flying and another 25 are in the construction phase. Additionally, a search of the NTSB accident database, revealed 19 accidents on the Questair Venture aircraft, with 13 of the accidents related to either the airplane landing gear or loss-of-directional control (by the pilot) during landing.