HISTORY OF FLIGHT Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
On July 19, 2009, about 1815 eastern daylight time, an amateur built Rutan VariEze, N39DX, was substantially damaged when it impacted a tractor during a low approach at Columbus Regional Airport (CSG), Columbus, Georgia. The certificated commercial pilot was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed. No flight plan was filed for the local personal flight, which was conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
According to witness statements, the pilot was going to practice takeoffs and landings (touch and goes) on runway 31. Just prior to the accident, the airplane had taken off, entered a left hand traffic pattern, and was cleared by air traffic control for the option which would allow the pilot to either land or execute a low approach. After descending from pattern altitude the airplane then landed and took off again. The airplane was then observed flying over the runway at approximately 30 feet above ground level in a level attitude. The engine was heard to pop, sputter, and then hesitate. The airplane then "veered" off the runway heading to the right and struck the side of a hangar with its right wing. The right wing separated from the airplane. The airplane then began a roll to the right, skipped off the top of a shed, and continued to roll until inverted. It then impacted an unoccupied tractor and broke apart.
According to voice data provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the pilot was cleared for the option at 1812:07. The pilot acknowledged the clearance at 1812:13. Approximately 2 minutes later at 1814:05, the pilot of the accident airplane radioed; "ah tower three niner delta x-ray's got problems". During the pilot's transmission, a sound similar to the engine losing power was audible.
According to FAA and pilot records, the pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine land. His most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued on August 21, 2007. He had accrued 1,771.8 total hours of flight experience.
The amateur built airplane was a rear engined, two place, composite construction, canard configured airplane. It was equipped with tricycle landing gear with fixed main landing gear, and a retractable nose landing gear.
According to FAA and maintenance records, the airplane's special airworthiness certificate was issued on September 16, 1993. The airplanes last conditional inspection was completed on November 2, 2008. At the time of the inspection, it had accumulated 3,304 total hours of operation.
A weather observation taken at CSG 24 minutes prior to the accident, included winds from 340 degrees at 9 knots, 10 miles visibility, clear sky, temperature 28 degrees Celsius, dew point 13 degrees Celsius and an altimeter setting of 30.05 inches of mercury.
According to the Airport Facility Directory, OQN had two runways oriented in a 06/24 and 13/31 configuration. Runway 31 was asphalt, and in good condition. Its markings were basic and in fair condition. The total length of the runway was 3,997 feet, and its width was 150 feet.
It was equipped with medium intensity runway edge lights, runway end identifier lights, and a 2-box visual approach slope indicator was installed on the left side of the runway which provided a 3 degree glide path.
An obstruction in the form of a 10 foot high light pole existed on the approach end of runway 31. It was located 300 feet from the end of the runway and 50 feet to the left of the centerline. A 10:1 slope was required to clear the pole.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Examination of the wreckage revealed no evidence of any preimpact malfunctions or failures.
The wreckage displayed heavy, fragmentation damage. The wings had separated from the fuselage at their respective fuselage wing junctures.
The nose of the airplane had separated forward of the instrument panel and the forward cockpit was separated from the rear cockpit. The engine had been separated from its mounts. The nose landing gear was extended, and the main gear assembly had separated from its mounts.
Examination of the flight control system revealed impact damage and multiple fractures of the push pull tubes and cables which made up the system. The breaks in the flight control system were consistent with overload, and control continuity was confirmed from the ailerons, elevator, and rudders to the cockpit area.
Examination of the front cockpit revealed that the canopy had been latched, the carburetor heat was full forward (off), the throttle was full forward, and the mixture control was full rich. The ignition selector switch was on "BOTH", the alternator switch was on, and the landing airbrake (speed-brake) handle was stowed.
The airplane was equipped with a 2-blade, fixed pitch, wooden propeller. Examination of the propeller revealed only impact damage. One blade was intact and the other blade was broken off within 6 inches of the propeller hub. There was no evidence of leading edge gouging or chordwise scratching on the intact blade.
Examination of the engine revealed no evidence of any preimpact mechanical malfunctions. Oil was present internally and in the rocker boxes. The oil filter contained no debris. The crankshaft was rotated by hand through the accessory pad, and no binding was noted. Thumb compression was obtained on all cylinders.
Examination of the dual electronic ignition system revealed that it had been impact damaged and could not be functionally tested. Physical examination of the system did not reveal however any apparent preimpact anomalies. Both ignition modules had remained attached to a fractured section of airframe and though the electrical connections and wires were pulled loose and bent, the breaks in the wiring showed evidence of overload. All four ignition coils were impact damaged and separated from their mounting flanges and several ignition leads were separated. Two of the ignition leads were fractured. The sparkplug's electrodes were dark gray in color, with the exception of the top and bottom spark plugs of the No. 3 cylinder, which exhibited oil residue. The direct crank sensor was bent and fractured. The alternator was intact and the drive shaft rotated freely by hand. The auxiliary battery was holding a charge of 12.86 volts.
A witness reported that fuel was present on the ground but, within 4 to 5 minutes "the fuel had completely evaporated". Examination of the fuel system revealed that all three fuel filler caps were closed and latched. All three fuel tanks were breached. The interior and exterior of the fuselage tank located just forward of the engine exhibited evidence of fuel staining. Examination of the main fuel tanks however, did not reveal any evidence of fuel staining and both the fuel strainer and carburetor float bowl were devoid of fuel. Examination of the fuel valve revealed that it was selected to the main tanks.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Division of Forensic Sciences, Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Toxicological testing of the pilot was conducted at the FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
According to the VariEze Owner's Manual, the fuel system consisted of two wing tanks and a fuselage tank all equipped with visual sight gauges. A three way fuel selector was located on the pilot's right console. The selector was positioned left to select wing fuel, up to select fuselage fuel, and right to select shutoff.
The fuel selector handle was designed to interfere with the pilot's wrist when the fuselage tank was selected, as a reminder to not takeoff on fuselage fuel. Fuselage fuel was to be used last. This allowed complete use of the wing fuel and if necessary a very accurate indication of the last 1/2 hour fuel supply in the fuselage tank.
The fuselage tank held about 2 gallons. All was usable in all normal attitudes. The wings held about 24 gallons of fuel total, all of which was usable for level flight.
The VariEze Owner's Manual cautioned that if a long descent was made with less than one gallon of fuel in each wing tank fuel starvation could occur. Fuel flow could be regained by selecting the fuselage tank or by reducing the descent angle.
The VariEze Owner's Manual advised that starvation could also occur during long steep descents with 2 gallons per wing tank and because of this possibility; the fuselage tank should be selected for all descents and landings, with less than two gallons per wing tank.
Additionally, the VariEze Owner's Manual in the the Emergency Procedures section advised that, "if engine failure occurs when there is less than one gallon of fuel in one or both fuel tanks, or during a long, sustained, steep descent with low fuel (less than two gallons in each tank), the most probable cause is fuel starvation".