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On February 26, 2009, about 2100 Pacific standard time, an experimental homebuilt Toland/Thornburgh Twin 503SL weight-shift-control power glider, N426MT, impacted terrain following an unintentional takeoff at Zamperini Field Airport (TOA), Torrance, California. The owner/pilot was operating the glider under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. The airline transport pilot sustained serious injuries; the private pilot passenger was killed. The glider sustained substantial damage to the frame and to both wings. The planned local personal flight was in the pre-taxi stage when the accident occurred. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed.
According to witnesses the glider was parked facing runways 11R/29L, between two hangars on the south side of the airport. Witnesses reported that the owner/pilot was seated in the rear seat, and the pilot-rated passenger was seated in the front seat.
After the engine was started, witnesses heard the engine accelerate to full throttle and saw the glider speeding toward a row of parked airplanes. The glider became airborne in a nose up pitch attitude, and nearly struck the parked airplanes. After missing the parked airplanes, when the glider was about 75 to 100 feet above the ground, the glider appeared to stall and impacted the ground between the two runways.
The owner/pilot submitted a Pilot/Operator Aircraft Accident Report (NTSB Form 6120.1/2).
The pilot stated that the airplane and engine had no mechanical failures or malfunctions during the flight.
The pilot stated that after preflight, the passenger was seated in the front seat and was shown the function of the steering bar, the pedals, the brake, and the throttle. After the engine was started the pilot tested the brakes by depressing the top of the left pedal; the pilot then asked the passenger to perform a brake check. Suddenly the glider engine increased rpm to what appeared to the pilot, to be full power.
The pilot stated the glider accelerated to takeoff speed and flew off the tarmac. Approximately 150 feet north of the glider were several rows of airplanes tied down on the ramp. The glider lifted off and climbed so quickly that it flew over the rows of tied down airplanes.
However, since the glider had not completed the pre-taxi checklist and the control bar was still bungee-tied to the down tube, the pilot was unable to maneuver the wing. The glider climbed to approximately 100 feet, stalled, and descended back to the ground impacting nose first. The glider hit the ground in the middle of the airport, between the two runways.
The owner/pilot, holds multiple ratings, which includes a weight-shift-control flight instructor rating, with night flying authorization. The purpose of the flight was to maintain his night flight qualification.
The pilot rated passenger in the front seat was not receiving instruction, he had never before flown in the accident glider before, and was along for the flight as a passenger.
In his written report, the pilot described the systems of the weight-shift-control power glider, which he referred to as a “trike.”
The accident glider is steered by two foot pedals in front of each pilot. The foot controls are similar to airplane controls, except when the top of the left pedal is depressed it activates the nose wheel brake. When the top of the right pedal is depressed, it activates the throttle, instead of activating the brake.
The glider is controlled in pitch and roll by a "control bar" in front of the front-seated pilot, which maneuvers a large hang-glider wing. The instructor in the back has "extension bars" that allow him to maneuver the control bar.
When the control bar is bungee-tied to the down tube the wing is "locked," comparable to the control locks on the ailerons, rudder, and elevator of an airplane.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) accident coordinator inspected the wreckage at the accident scene prior to the recovery and verified control continuity to all of the flight controls and the throttle linkage.
A bungee cord was noted to be located near the control bar and near the airframe down tube.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Los Angeles County Coroner completed an autopsy on the passenger. The cause of death was determined to be a result of blunt force trauma.
Analysis of the specimens for the passenger contained no findings for volatiles or tested drugs. They did not perform tests for carbon monoxide or cyanide.
In the pilot’s written statement he stated the following items are highly recommended to prevent such an accident from occurring again:
Trike pilots should be aware that the engine could experience uncommanded full power at any time after the engine is running. This could occur during taxi, during the magneto check in the run-up area, or even after landing.
1. Before the engine is started, and at all times thereafter, the bungee-tie should be removed from the control bar/down tube. In other words, from the time that the engine is started the trike pilot should be able to fully manipulate the control bar without interference from the bungee so that he can immediately start flying the trike in the event of an uncommanded full power causes the trike to unexpectedly take off and become airborne.
2. Both the front and rear pilots should have immediate and unimpeded access to a "kill switch” that would stop the engine in the event of an uncommanded power increase.
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."