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On August 11, 2007, about 1430 eastern daylight time, an amateur-built Glasair III, N340, was substantially damaged during a forced landing on Captiva Island, Florida. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The certificated pilot/owner and his passenger received minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed.
According to the pilot, the airplane departed Venice Municipal Airport (VNC), Venice, Florida, about 1400. While in cruise flight at approximately 2,000 feet mean sea level (msl) near Captiva Island, the pilot intentionally pulled the airplane into "the vertical," which he estimated to be approximately 60 to 70 degrees nose up, and then conducted a "pushover." The pilot estimated that the airplane experienced "zero-G for about a minute," and that the peak altitude reached was approximately 2,500 feet msl. At some point in this maneuver, the engine ceased operating. The pilot then turned on the fuel boost pump and switched the fuel selector valve position. The three fuel selector valve positions were "Off," "Mains" and "Mains and Header." The pilot stated that during the maneuver, and when the engine ceased operating, the fuel selector valve was set to the "Mains and Header" position. Following the event, the pilot selected the "Mains" position for a short time.
The pilot estimated the airplane's descent rate to be approximately 2,000 feet per minute without engine power. He said that he did not have much time to attempt an engine restart, or to select an emergency landing site. The pilot estimated that the period from the loss of engine power to touchdown was approximately 1 minute. He cycled the boost pump several times, and also tried each of the two in-flight positions of the fuel selector valve more than once. Although the propeller was windmilling, none of these efforts were successful in restarting the engine.
The pilot considered landing on a road, but realized it was unsuitable, and elected to land on a beach. Shortly before the landing, the propeller stopped windmilling. The pilot extended the landing gear, touched down, and applied heavy braking. When the airplane was "almost stopped", it nosed over, and came to rest inverted. The two occupants exited the airplane through the pilot's side window, and there was no post impact fire. The pilot estimated that the period from the engine failure to touchdown was approximately one minute.
The certificated private pilot held airplane single-engine and multi-engine land ratings, with 2,725 total hours of flight experience. He reported 15 hours of flight experience in the accident airplane make and model, with 14 and 3 hours in the previous 90 and 30 days, respectively. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) second-class medical certificate was issued in June, 2006. The pilot was not the builder of the airplane. He indicated that he was not aware of any airplane-specific pilot training for the airplane model, and that he had not obtained any such training.
According to information from the FAA and the airplane kit manufacturer, the airplane was built in 1992. It was a two-place low wing monoplane equipped with a Lycoming IO-540 K1G5 reciprocating engine, and a constant-speed propeller. In August 1996, the airplane was damaged during a forced landing that resulted from fuel exhaustion. The pilot involved in the 1996 accident was not the same pilot who was involved in the 2007 accident.
The pilot of the 2007 accident purchased the airplane a few weeks prior to the accident. The FAA certificate of registration was issued to him on July 27, 2007. At the time of the most recent accident, the airplane total time in service was 431 hours. The airplane was last inspected in December 2006.
According to the airplane kit manufacturer, the standard fuel system consisted of two separate fuel tanks; a 53-gallon main tank, and an 8-gallon header tank. The standard fuel system configuration did not permit fuel transfer from one tank to the other, and required that fuel be loaded separately into each tank while the airplane was on the ground. The standard fuel system also did not permit the engine to be supplied with fuel from both the main and header tanks simultaneously.
According to the pilot, the fuel system in the accident airplane permitted the engine to be supplied with fuel from both the main and header tanks simultaneously. He stated that there were approximately 4 1/2 gallons of fuel in the header tank at the time of the event. The pilot also stated that the airplane was equipped with a "flop tube." According to the kit manufacturer, a flop tube was a flexible fuel-pickup tube installed inside a fuel tank. The tube had a weighted end that responded to the gravity vector, causing the pickup tube inlet to remain submerged in the fuel, independent of the airplane's attitude. The flop tube was intended to prevent fuel starvation caused by unporting of the fuel-pickup tube inlet. The National Transportation Safety Board was unable to confirm the configuration or functionality of the fuel system, the presence or functionality of a flop tube, or the quantity of fuel in the header tank at the time of the event.
The airplane Owner's Manual (OM) contained information about the operating procedures and performance, but due to the ability of individual builders to vary the equipment and configuration of each airplane, the information provided by the OM was generic in nature. The Introduction section of the OM contained the following citations:
"The power-off sink rate is over 1500 feet per minute"
"This manual is not designed, nor can it serve as a substitute for adequate and competent flight instruction."
The OM defined a "NOTE" as "An operating procedure, condition etc., which it is considered essential to emphasize." The Limitations section of the OM contained the following note: "Sustained inverted flight requires inverted fuel and oil systems. The eight gallon header tank on the firewall is easily converted into an inverted fuel system by means of a flop tube fuel line installation."
The OM defined a "WARNING" as any "procedures, practices, etc. which may result in personal injury or loss of life if not carefully followed." The Limitations section of the OM contained the following warning: "Any negative, slipping, or cross-controlling maneuvers require an inverted fuel system to prevent unporting the fuel system. If an injector equipped engine is unported during flight, the engine will quit under power."
Paragraph 3-3.3, "Engine Failure in Flight," of the OM Emergency Procedures section included instructions to "check that fuel pressure is adequate" and to "switch to the header tank if it is full of fuel." Paragraph 6-3 of the OM stated that "A three position fuel valve for fuel management is used with positions for fuel off, main fuel tank on, and header tank fuel on."
The 1353 weather observation at Regional Southwest Airport (RSW), Fort Myers, Florida, located approximately 20 miles east of the accident site, included: wind calm, visibility 10 miles, few clouds at 4,500 feet; temperature 35 degrees C; dew point 23 degrees C; and altimeter setting 29.94 inches of mercury. The 1453 RSW weather observation included: winds from 170 degrees at 18 knots, gusts to 22 knots; visibility 10 miles; scattered clouds at 4,500 feet; broken clouds at 6,000 and 8,000 feet; temperature 32 degrees C; dew point 23 degrees C, and altimeter setting 29.94 inches of mercury.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
According to the pilot, the nose gear was damaged, the cockpit canopy was cracked, and the vertical fin and rudder were fractured as a result of the nose-over. The FAA inspector who responded to the accident site conducted a superficial visual examination of the airplane, and provided a verbal corroboration of the pilot's damage description. No functional testing or examination of the airplane fuel system or engine was conducted. The inspector did not document his observations either in writing, or photographically.