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On April 27, 2009 at 1645 eastern daylight time, a foreign certificated experimental Explorer Aeronautique Ecoflyer airplane, Canadian registration C-IOFL, was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain in Lebanon, New York. The pilot was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the flight that originated at LT Warren Eaton Airport (KOIC), Norwich, New York, about 1630. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
According to the pilot's family, he was returning to Trois-Rivieres Airport (CYRQ), Quebec, Canada after spending a week at 'Sun and Fun' in Lakeland, Florida. He departed from Sebring, Florida on April 26, 2009, and flew to Florence Regional Airport (KFLO), Florence, South Carolina, where he spent the night. On the day of the accident, he departed KFLO around 0740 and stopped at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport (KMRB), Martinsburg, West Virginia before continuing to KOIC.
Personnel at KOIC reported that the pilot landed at the airport around 1400. He reported to them that he had encountered "rough air and wind gusts like he had never seen before." The personnel reported he was "very shook up" about the encounter.
While on the ground at KOIC, the pilot called his girlfriend and stated the last leg of his flight was "horrible" and that the airplane climbed to 8,000 feet with very little control. The pilot "had trouble holding it and bringing it back down." The girlfriend asked if the problem was the airplane or the wind, to which the pilot responded "it was a little of everything."
The pilot added 10 gallons of fuel, which "topped the tanks." He also called the Buffalo Flight Service Station (FSS) and requested information regarding restricted airspace along his route of flight into Canada. The pilot remained at the airport for several hours and departed about 1630. Airport personnel watched the airplane depart and reported no anomalies with the departure.
The following day, April 28, 2009, at approximately 1415, a landowner discovered the wreckage of the airplane while he was performing routine surveillance on his property. There were no witnesses to the accident.
The pilot, age 56, held a Canadian-issued private pilot certificate. He also held a valid third-class medical certificate issued on February 25, 2009.
The pilot's logbook could not be located and his flight time could not be verified; however, he reported to friends that he had over 2,500 hours of flight experience.
The pilot was also the sole owner and creator of the company (Explorer Aeronautique Inc.), which designed and built the accident airplane. He created the company Explorer Aeronautique Incorpore in 1999, and had one engineer assisting him with the design and testing of the aircraft.
The pilot began the Explorer Aeronautique Company by building the "Private Explorer" aircraft. He purchased the plans from another builder and built five of these aircraft. According to company personnel, the costs to produce the "Private Explorer" aircraft were too high and the pilot was unable to profit. The pilot believed if he could produce a smaller version of the "Private Explorer" in the new "Advanced Ultralight" category, he may be able to profit. The use of composite materials and fiberglass would reduce costs and weight of the airplane.
The pilot designed and built two Ecoflyer prototype aircraft in this manner: the accident airplane and one other. He also built two "Mini-Explorer" aircraft and one "Explorer" aircraft.
These five aircraft had the same wing design as the accident airplane.
Construction of the accident aircraft (prototype) was completed in June 2008. According to the pilot's family, he was in the "commercialization phase" of the business, and had begun taking orders for the Ecoflyer airplane. Production was to have commenced in the fall of 2009.
The Ecoflyer was a high-wing monoplane with two occupant seats installed in a side-by-side design. It was a single-engine airplane, powered by a Rotax 912 ULS engine. The airplane was of composite design, with a fuel capacity of 30 gallons, and a maximum gross weight of 1,320 pounds. The Ecoflyer had a maximum cruising speed of 117 knots, and a range of 510 nautical miles.
The pilot designed the Ecoflyer in compliance with the document titled, "Design Standards for Advanced Ultra-light Aeroplanes" distributed by the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association of Canada.
A signed "Declaration of Compliance" was on-file with Transport Canada (TC), which stated, "the Type Definition for the advanced ultra-light aeroplane herin described is in compliance with the LAMAC Design Standards for Advanced Ultra-light Aeroplanes, Publication DS10141E Amendment 003."
A "Statement of Conformity for Advanced Ultra-light Aeroplane" was observed in the airplane. It was signed by the pilot and dated July 10, 2008. The document stated that the airplane "conformed to the Design Standards for Advanced Ultra-light Aeroplanes and is fit for flight." The Registration Certificate was also observed in the airplane, also dated July 10, 2008.
An aircraft logbook was located in the airplane. The first page was completed with the manufacturer, model, serial number, and date of manufacturer information; however, no maintenance entries or aircraft hours were recorded in the logbook.
A review of voice communications provided by Buffalo FSS revealed the pilot did not request weather information for his flight or file a flight plan, when he contacted them prior to his departure from KOIC. The pilot only requested information regarding active military operations areas (MOA) between his location and the Canadian border.
The weather reported at Syracuse International Airport (SYR), Syracuse, New York, at 1654, included winds from 340 degrees at 8 knots, 10 miles visibility, few clouds at 5,500 feet, scattered clouds at 21,000 feet, temperature 29 degrees C, dew point 12 degrees and altimeter setting 30.14 inches mercury.
Examination of weather data by an NTSB Meteorologist revealed convection about 30 nautical miles east of KOIC around 1400 to 1415, some of the echoes were of extreme turbulence. Weather radar data did not display anything significant in the immediate vicinity of KOIC; however, low altitude turbulence was possible especially in areas of rough terrain. Turbulent Kinetic Energy (proxy for turbulence intensity) plots for 3,000, 5000, and 10,000 feet displayed low turbulence values in the immediate accident area with higher more significant values to the east.
There were no turbulence pilot reports (PIREPs) for the route, and no in-flight weather advisories in effect.
Personnel at KOIC kept a log of weather observations taken hourly from the automated weather observing system (AWOS) on the field. At 1345, the surface winds were recorded as 220 degrees at 8 knots, gusting to 18 knots. The winds remained relatively constant for the next several hours, and at 1645, the winds were from 240 degrees at 8 knots, gusting to 20 knots. At 1605, the winds were from 220 degrees at 8 knots, and at 1705, the winds were from 220 degrees at 8 knots.
The wreckage was examined on April 29, 2009, and all major components were accounted for at the scene with the exception of the right horizontal stabilizer. The debris path extended approximately 1/4 mile, through heavily wooded terrain, oriented on a heading of 300 degrees magnetic. Located along the wreckage path were the left wing strut, an outboard section of left wing, and the right elevator
The left wing was the first piece of wreckage found at the most southern end of the wreckage path. It came to rest perpendicular to the ground, with the inboard section of the wing at the base of a tree. The outboard section of the wing was partially separated from the inboard section, and remained attached by flight control cables. The outboard section, with the aileron attached, was observed suspended at the top of the tree.
The left wing strut was located about 578 feet from the left wing, to the right of centerline. The top end of the strut contained the attachment hardware for the wing.
The complete right elevator was located 920 feet from the left wing on the centerline of the wreckage path.
The main wreckage came to rest, at the base of a tree, oriented on a heading of approximately 080 degrees magnetic. Trees surrounding the airplane were virtually undisturbed and there was no forward wreckage path. Propeller slash marks were noted in the tree, at a height of approximately 7 feet. The bark of the tree was removed from that height to the ground.
The right wing and wing strut were separated from the fuselage, and was observed adjacent to the cockpit area of the fuselage, at the base of the tree. The right flap remained attached to the wing at all attachment points. The right wing strut was also located adjacent to the wing.
The empennage section was separated from the fuselage area and observed adjacent to it. The left horizontal stabilizer, with elevator attached, remained attached to the empennage; however the right horizontal stabilizer was separated and not located.
The vertical stabilizer was attached to the empennage, and the rudder was attached to the vertical stabilizer at its top attachment point.
The engine was observed intact in the cockpit area of the main wreckage. The propeller hub was separated from the engine and both blades were fractured at about their mid-span.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Onondaga County Health Department Center for Forensic Sciences performed an autopsy on the pilot on April 29, 2009. The cause of death was listed as multiple injuries due to blunt trauma.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Bioaeronautical Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, conducted toxicological testing on the pilot. No drugs or alcohol were detected during the testing.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The airplane was equipped with an electronic flight instrument system (EFIS) and an aircraft monitoring and data acquisition system. The units were retained and sent to their manufacturer for download. Examination of the data revealed the previous 10 hours of flight time were recorded, documenting flights on April 17, 18, 24, 25, 26, and 27th. The parameters recorded included: altitude, airspeed, pitch, roll, heading, and g-loads. No anomalies were noted in the data, and the g-loading never exceeded 1 positive G.
Portions of both wings and landing gear attachments were retained and examined at the NTSB Materials Laboratory. The resulting examination revealed the wings were constructed almost entirely of adhesively bonded composite materials, consisting primarily of laminated glass fiber fabric plies. The wing spar web consisted of glass fiber fabric face sheets bonded on the front and back of a central foam core. The upper and lower wing skins each had an inner and outer composite layer (with varying numbers and orientations of the plies in each layer depending on location) separated by a foam core.
The wing struts were extruded aluminum profiles with an aerodynamic contour. The struts were connected at the top and bottom by inserting several inches of aluminum bar stock into the ends of the struts and bolting through the strut and bar stock. The protruding ends of the bar stock were then bolted to the adjoining structure.
Above the top end of each wing strut, the thickness of the protruding bar stock was reduced from 0.9 inch to approximately 0.375 inch, and the thinner section was bolted between two aluminum plates, which were bonded and bolted to the front and back surfaces of the wing spar webs to connect the struts to the wing spars.
At the bottom of each strut, the protruding end of the bar stock was bolted between two 0.125-inch-thick steel plates, which were welded to a framework extending across the bottom of the airplane that also served to attach the landing gear. The framework was constructed of welded steel tubes. The inboard ends of the landing gear were attached with bolts passing through holes drilled directly through the steel tubing without additional reinforcement of the structure. Semicircular cutouts with estimated diameters between 0.5 inch and 0.75 inch were also drilled through the steel tubing on the bottom of the landing gear, apparently to provide access to a port for a conduit that extended to the bottom end of each landing gear. Such conduits were intended to be used as brake lines, but the bottom end of each conduit on both the left and right landing gear was blocked with a red plastic plug.
The structure of the left wing fractured around the aluminum plates connecting the spar to the strut, allowing the strut and wing to separate. The spar web was fractured along two roughly vertical paths, one just inboard of the strut attachment and the second approximately 5 inches beyond the outboard end of the aluminum plates attaching the strut. Between the two vertical fractures in the spar web, the spar was separated from the upper wing skin primarily by disbonding between the spar cap and the wing skin. Between the two vertical fractures in the spar web, the spar was separated from the lower wing skin by disbonding between the inner and outer wing skin layers and fractures in the inner wing skin.
At the upper end of the left wing strut, the protruding aluminum bar stock and the two aluminum plates connecting it to the wing spar were bent down and forward. At the bottom end of the left strut, the bar stock was fractured through the hole for the bottom bolt attaching it to the strut. The steel plates connecting the inboard end of the bar stock to the lower fuselage frame had residual deformation showing displacement aft and nose down twisting, with some cracking in the welds. The bar stock adjacent to the fracture retained residual deformation indicating that the fracture occurred under downward bending at the outboard end.
The steel plates connecting the bottom end of the right strut to the lower fuselage frame had residual deformation showing displacement forward and nose down twisting.
The welded tubular framework at the bottom of the fuselage was fractured on both sides through the holes for the inboard bolt attaching the landing gear. The frame was also fractured near the welds on both the left and right sides.
Although the right horizontal stabilizer was not located, its respective empennage attachment points displayed evidence consistent with overstress failure.
A representative from the engine manufacturer, who supplied engines to the pilot's company, observed the accident airplane at 'Sun and Fun' in the days prior to the accident. The witness reported the aircraft's bottom strut attach brackets as they were welded to the sub cross over frame under the cabin floor boards were "very poorly attached…with substandard welds and bracket design." The witness stated it appeared the brackets, which the strut attached to were "very poorly welded and of a design which put them in tension pulling on the welds."
In March 2007, the engineer who assisted the pilot in testing the aircraft identified critical spots in the wing, which would have resulted in failure of the wing in-flight. The engineer believed the airplane was particularly susceptible to failure if it was subject to aerodynamic loads over 4 Gs. Company personnel reported the pilot modified the wing design after the critical spots were identified; however, they were unsure of the exact changes the pilot made.
After the accident, personnel at KOIC tested the fuel supply from which the pilot fueled his airplane. No contamination or anomalies were noted with the fuel.
Canadian Aircraft Certification Process
There were three categories of aircraft classification (for general aviation) in Canada: (1) amateur-built aircraft; (2) ultralight aircraft; (3) advanced ultralight aircraft. Amateur-built aircraft require more than 51% of the aircraft be built by the builder. These aircraft require airworthiness inspections by Transport Canada (TC) inspectors.
Aircraft in the ultralight and advanced ultralight categories do not require inspection by TC. In lieu of TC inspection, aircraft in the advanced ultralight category require a "Declaration of Compliance," from the manufacturer in order to receive a registration certificate. These aircraft also require a "Certificate of Conformity" before they can be produced and sold.
The accident airplane (Ecoflyer prototype) was classified in the advanced ultralight category in Canada.
United States Aircraft Certification Process
According to company personnel, the pilot intended to sell the Ecoflyer airplane in the United States (U.S.), and was in the process of completing paperwork for the necessary approval from the FAA.
In the U.S., the Ecoflyer would have been classified as a Special Light Sport Aircraft (S-LSA) by the FAA. Eligibility for a special airworthiness certificate for S-LSA requires the applicant (generally a dealer/distributor) to submit an Application for U.S. Airworthiness Certificate and provide the FAA with a copy of the manufacturers' documentation, including in part: the aircraft's operating instructions, and the manufacturer's statement of compliance (through which the manufacturer self-certifies compliance with the ASTM consensus standards).
Once the FAA receives all of the manufacturer's records and documentation, an FAA inspector or FAA-certified designated airworthiness representative (DAR) must complete a records inspection, a document review, and an airworthiness inspection of each aircraft before a special airworthiness certificate is issued.