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On December 9, 2006, about 1040 Pacific standard time, an experimental amateur built Lauer Harmon Rocket II, serial number 129, N604JL, collided with terrain while maneuvering near Bakersfield, California. The owner/pilot was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. The airline transport pilot and a passenger were killed, and the airplane was destroyed. The local area personal flight departed Bakersfield Municipal Airport (L45) about 1020. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed.
Witnesses reported seeing the airplane performing aerobatic maneuvers just prior to the accident. As the airplane was completing a loop, it impacted into a fallow agricultural field in a wings level, nose high attitude.
The accident site was approximately 10 miles southwest of L45.
A review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman records revealed that the pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with ratings for airplane multi-engine land and commercial privileges for airplane single-engine land. He held a flight instructor certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine and multi-engine, and instrument airplane. He held a ground instructor certificate with ratings for advanced and instrument. He held a repairman experimental aircraft builder certificate with the limitation for the airplane make John E. Lauer, model Harmon Rocket II, serial number 129, certification date October 20, 2004.
The pilot held a second-class medical certificate issued in July 2006. It had the limitations that the pilot must wear corrective lenses, and possess glasses for near and interim vision.
At the time of the issuance of the medical certificate, the pilot reported a total flight time of 11,700 hours.
No personal flight records were located for the pilot.
The airplane was an experimental Harmon Rocket II, serial number 129. No logbooks were located for the airplane. According to FAA records an airworthiness certificate was issued for this airplane on October 20, 2004.
The engine was a Lycoming IO-540-C4B5, serial number L-10818-48. No logbooks were located for the engine.
No fueling records were obtained.
The closest official weather observation station was Bakersfield Meadows, California (BFL), which was located 14 nautical miles (nm) southwest of the accident site. The elevation of the weather observation station was 507 feet mean sea level (msl). An aviation routine weather report (METAR) for BFL was issued at 1054 PDT. It read: winds from 140 degrees at 3 knots; visibility 10 miles; skies clear; temperature 17 degrees Celsius; dew point 01 degrees Celsius; and altimeter 30.00 inHg.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Investigators from the FAA and the Kern County Sheriff's Department documented the accident site. According to the FAA representative, the airplane compacted into itself, and came to rest approximately 100 yards from the impact point. The airplane was recovered for further investigation.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological testing of specimens of the pilot. Analysis of the specimens contained no findings for tested drugs.
The report contained the following findings for volatiles: 10 (mg/dL, mg/hg) ethanol detected in the liver; and 31 (mg/dL, mg/hg) ethanol detected in the muscle.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
On December 14, 2006, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) examined the engine at Aircraft Recovery Service, Littlerock, California.
The engine was displaced from the airframe at the engine mount. Visual examination of the engine revealed no evidence of pre-impact catastrophic mechanical malfunction or fire.
The top spark plugs were removed, examined and photographed. The propeller governor was removed, and the crankshaft was rotated by hand through the propeller governor drive pad utilizing a drive tool. The crankshaft was free and easy to rotate in both directions. Mechanical and valve train continuity was established, and thumb compression was observed in proper order on all six cylinders.
Clean, uncontaminated oil was observed at all six rockerbox areas. The combustion chambers of the cylinders were examined through the spark plug holes utilizing a lighted borescope. The combustion chambers remained mechanically undamaged, and there was no evidence of foreign object ingestion or detonation. The valves were intact and undamaged. There was no evidence of valve to piston face contact observed. The gas path and combustion signatures observed at the spark plugs, combustion chambers and remaining exhaust system components displayed coloration consistent with normal operation. There was no oil residue observed in the exhaust system gas path. There was significant ductile bending of the remaining exhaust system components.
The left magneto was found securely clamped at the mounting pad. The ignition harness was secure. Magneto to engine timing could not be ascertained due to the destruction of the flywheel. The magneto was removed for examination, and produced spark during hand rotation of the drive. The drives of the magneto remained intact and undamaged. The right magneto sustained damage and was displaced from the mounting pad. According to the manufacturer's representative, the fracture surface signatures at the magneto-mounting flange were consistent with overload forces. The pieces of magneto flange that remained at the mounting pad were secure. Magneto to engine timing could not be ascertained. The drive was found intact and secure, and the magneto produced spark during hand rotation.
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."