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On January 2, 2010, about 1521 eastern standard time, a Fairchild SA227 Metro III, N227ML, registered to 472 LLC, ran off the side of runway 23 during landing roll at the Lake Cumberland Regional Airport (SME), Somerset, Kentucky. The pilot, co-pilot and passenger were not injured, and the airplane sustained substantial damage. The flight was operated by Locair, Inc., as flight 151, an on-demand air taxi flight, conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 135, with an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan filed. Visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed at the time of the accident. The flight originated from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), Baltimore, Maryland, at 1320 the same day.
According to the pilot-in-command (pilot flying), the airplane was on a stabilized approach to runway 23. It touched down normally with the main landing gear contacting first, and then the nose landing gear. As the nose wheel contacted the runway, the airplane veered to the right. The pilot applied full left rudder and full reverse on the left power lever; but was unsuccessful in correcting the alignment of the airplane. He then engaged the nose wheel steering button on the left power lever, and the airplane began a more aggressive turn to the right. It departed the runway, traveled down an embankment and came to rest against the airport boundary fence.
The co-pilot (non-flying pilot) stated that after the airplane touched down, the pilot-in-command brought the power levers to reverse. At that time, the airplane suddenly turned to the right and exited the runway. Despite the pilot-in-commands' constant efforts to correct the airplane's path, including full reverse on the left engine, the airplane continued to veer to the right. It came to a rest after sliding down the embankment and impacting the airport fence.
A Locair customer service representative observed the airplane's approach, as she was outside on the tarmac waiting for it to land. She stated that the airplane touched down normally on the runway and began to taxi. At the point where it needed to make a turn toward the terminal, it began to "fishtail." It continued this movement for "a little bit," then straightened out and went off the runway.
Another witness observed the airplane touchdown beyond the 3,000 feet distance remaining marker for runway 23. He also noted that the winds were reported on the AWOS from 330 degrees.
The pilot flying, age 41, held an airline transport pilot certificate with a rating for airplane multiengine land. He also held a flight instructor certificate with ratings for airplane single and multiengine land, and instrument airplane. His most recent first-class medical certificate was issued on December 6, 2009. At that time, he reported 5,350 hours of total flight experience.
The pilot monitoring, age 33, held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single and multiengine land, and instrument airplane. His most recent first-class medical certificate was issued on August 8, 2008. At that time, he reported 350 hours of total flight experience.
The airplane was manufactured in 1982, and equipped with two Airesearch TPE331-11U turboprop engines. The airplane was maintained on a continuous airworthiness inspection program, and the most recent inspection was completed on December 3, 2009 at 25,945 total aircraft hours. At the time of the accident, the airplane had accumulated 25,998 hours.
According to the Metro III Landing Distance Chart in the Airplane Flight Manual, an airplane with a landing weight of 11,000 pounds required approximately 2,600 feet of landing distance, with the wind, temperature, and elevation conditions present for the accident airplane.
The weather recorded at SME, at 1515, included wind from 310 degrees at 5 knots, 10 miles visibility with light snow, overcast clouds at 2,500 feet, temperature -7 degrees C, dew point -11 degrees C, and altimeter setting of 30.34 inches mercury.
Lake Cumberland Regional Airport was comprised of a single runway, oriented in a 5/23 configuration.
Runway 5/23 was 5,800 feet long and 100 feet wide, made of asphalt.
After the accident, a visual inspection of the runway by the airport manager revealed no water, ice or snow. A friction test was also performed by airport personnel, which yielded the following results:
First 1/3 of the runway: 71% friction
Second 1/3 of the runway: 64 % friction
Third 1/3 of the runway: 51% friction
Overall average: 62% friction
The airplane was equipped with a Fairchild model A-100A cockpit voice recorder (CVR). The CVR was retained and forwarded to the NTSB Vehicle Recorders Laboratory, Washington, D.C., for data download. According to the Specialist's Factual Report, none of the audio was pertinent to the accident investigation. The audio was consistent with a CVR which had malfunctioned and stopped recording some time prior to the accident. There are also indications that an attempt had been made to erase the tape while still installed in the CVR unit, but after the tape mechanism had stopped running. [Additional information regarding the CVR content can be found in the Vehicle Recorder Specialist's Report located in the public docket.]
Examination of the runway by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector, revealed tire marks from all three landing gear, in the center of runway 23, beginning just past the 2,000 feet remaining sign. The markings appeared to track straight, without skidding, for 120 feet, before beginning a slow curve to the right. They continued to travel in a curve an additional 285 feet before exiting the runway onto the grass parallel to the runway. The markings continued through the grass, until the left propeller struck the Taxiway D intersection sign. The tire marks continued across Taxiway D, into the grass again, and across Taxiway A. After crossing Taxiway A, the markings continued down the embankment, terminating where the airplane struck the fence (1,131 feet from the initial observed transfer markings).
All runway markings appeared to be "friction" transfer and not skid marks. The markings were indicative to rolling tires only, and there was no indication of locking of the brake assemblies.
Examination of the airplane by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector revealed the right wing was substantially damaged, outboard of the landing light assembly. The wing section displayed impact and accordion crushing damage. Additionally, the left propeller displayed damage to 2 of the 4 blades, indicative of contact with the airport taxiway sign. All four blades were curled at their tips, indicative of striking rocks at the base of the embankment. The two damaged blades were locked in the low pitch setting and the other two were free moving in the propeller hub. The right engine propeller was observed to be in the feathered position with damage to all four blades.
The nose section of the airplane sustained scratching from contact with the fence, but was not compromised. The flaps were observed to be partially extended.
The cockpit examination revealed the nose wheel steering switch was in the "ARMED" position, and the engine power levers were between the ground idle and reverse positions. The right power lever was more difficult to move than the left lever. The flap control was between the ¼ and ½ positions.
The airplane was subsequently recovered for further examination.
Visual examination of the landing gear assemblies appeared undamaged, and the tire assemblies did not indicate any damage and/or scuffing. All tires were inflated and wheel assemblies appeared undamaged.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Examination of the engine revealed the right power lever was stiff and difficult to operate, even with the friction locks at a minimum. The left power lever operated smoothly and unrestricted. A check of the engine rigging parameters revealed the right engine led the left engine by 8-10 degrees. One possibility for this discrepancy was that the right engine entered into reverse before the left engine.
The left landing gear brake was submitted for an operational bench test and teardown examination. No defects or discrepancies were noted during the testing or examination.
Nose Landing Gear (NLG) Steering Actuator Examination
The NLG actuator was also submitted for an operational bench test and visual inspection. The results of the testing revealed the reported failure could not be duplicated. Examination of the hydraulic fluid retrieved from inside the unit revealed the fluid was in "like new" condition and contained no contamination.
After the accident, Locair maintenance advised a “connection’ had been repaired and the nose wheel steering appeared to operate normally. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Investigator-In-Charge (IIC) was notified and a request was made for the FAA to ride on board the aircraft for taxi testing to confirm the issue was resolved.
At the initiation of the test, the AMT taxied slowly across the ramp and onto a taxiway. The brakes were applied and the nose wheel steering (NWS) responded appropriately. This test was conducted 5 more times, with no anomalies. The AMT then proceeded to runway 23 for an additional taxi test. He aligned the airplane left of centerline and slowly applied power. As the airspeed reached 20 knots, the AMT applied both brakes, and the airplane gradually veered to the right. The AMT engaged the NWS, which appeared to function normally, and the airplane returned to center. The same test was repeated a second time, and when the airplane reached 35 knots, the AMT engaged the NWS and the airplane returned to center.
A third, and final, test was performed. As the airplane reached 50 knots, the AMT applied both brakes and the airplane veered sharply to the right. The AMT continued to apply left brake and engaged the NWS; however, the airplane continued to the right and exited the runway. The AMT continued to apply "hard left brake" and stated, "It's not responding…it's not turning…I can't steer it!"
The airplane continued to travel down the embankment and came to rest in the grass.
After the second runway excursion, further examination of the nose wheel steering assembly was conducted. The results of the examination revealed damaged wires in the nose wheel steering harness. The harness was rewired, re-installed on the airplane and operationally tested. No further anomalies were experienced with the nose wheel steering.