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On February 11, 2009, at 1505 eastern standard time, a Liberty XL-2, N513XL, was substantially damaged during landing at Malcolm McKinnon Airport (SSI), Brunswick, Georgia. The certificated private pilot was not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the local personal flight conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
According to the flight school owner who operated the airplane, the pilot was completing a "long cross-country flight" in preparation for his instrument rating checkride. The pilot originally departed from North Palm Beach County General Aviation Airport (F45), West Palm Beach, Florida and flew to Deland Municipal Airport (DED), Deland, Florida. From there the pilot flew to SSI, and planned to return to F45.
The pilot reported to his flight instructor that during landing on runway 34, the airplane bounced twice, during which the propeller struck the ground. The pilot initiated a go-around and then decided to land on the perpendicular runway. The airplane had "little airspeed and a low altitude," and during the left turn, it "stalled" and "slammed into the ground" on runway 22. The pilot reported no mechanical anomalies with the airplane.
According to a witness, the airplane was on final approach to runway 34. The witnesses did not see the airplane touchdown on the runway, but observed the airplane power up and perform a go-around or touch-and-go. As the airplane passed the witness' position on the ramp, the witness observed the nose wheel "cover" broken and hanging down under the nose wheel. The witness reported the airplane "did not appear to be climbing as fast as it should…and appeared to be almost stalling." The airplane then turned left at the departure end of runway 34 and "sharply lost altitude," impacting nose-down on runway 22.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and rotorcraft-helicopter. His most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued on September 12, 2007.
At the time of the accident, the pilot reported 245 hours of total flight experience, 26 of which were in make and model of the accident airplane. He also reported accumulating 108 hours of total flight experience in the previous 90 days, and 45 hours in the previous 30 days.
The Liberty XL-2 was a single-engine airplane powered by a Continental IO-240 engine. It was a two-seat, low-wing airplane, constructed mostly of carbon fiber.
The airplane was manufactured in 2005, and received its airworthiness certificate on January 4, 2006.
The airplane’s most recent inspection was completed on January 21, 2010. At that time, the aircraft had accumulated 436 hours of total flight time.
The weather recorded at SSI, at 1453, included wind from 280 degrees at 6 knots, clear skies and visibility 10 miles.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector examined the runway and airplane after the accident. According to the inspector, damage to the airplane and markings on the runway indicated the airplane’s right wingtip and propeller struck runway 34 left of centerline, while the airplane was moving laterally (at a 45-degree angle to the runway). After the initial point of impact on runway 34, the airplane continued about 150 feet and bounced again. It then traveled about 1/2 mile and impacted the intersecting runway (runway 22), substantially damaging the left wing.
Examination of the airplane revealed damage to the underside of the right wingtip and buckling of the left wing. The nose wheel landing gear was bent to the right and examination of the gear housing revealed all four bolts were sheared in overstress.
Flight control continuity was confirmed from the cockpit to all flight control surfaces.
ORGANIZATIONAL AND MANAGEMENT INFORMATION
The flight school operated a fleet consisting of the following aircraft: Cessna 152, Cessna 172, Diamond DA-40, Grumman Cheetah, Liberty XL-2, Piper PA-18, Piper PA-28, Piper PA-23, and Pitts S-2.
FAA XL-2 Airplane Fact Finding Investigation
In April 2008, the FAA Small Airplane Directorate formed a fact-finding investigation (FFI) team to conduct a formal, independent investigation of the safety allegations received from a U.S. flight school ("the complainant") against Liberty Aerospace Incorporated for the Model XL-2 airplane. The investigation was completed in July 2008, and the FFI report was published in September 2008.
According to the report, the FFI team comprised individuals from different organizations within the FAA. The team gathered information for this investigation through conducting visits, interviews, flight evaluations, and various database and document reviews. The team worked with the complainant flight school, Liberty Aircraft, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) of Australia, different flight school operators and maintained personnel, and different organizations within the FAA.
According to the report, the complainant argued that, "It takes approximately 25 hours to solo a student pilot in the Model XL-2 and typically 15 hours in the Cessna Model 150." Other flight schools reported, "The airplane is sensitive on pitch and challenging for students to get used to, especially on landing" and "The time to solo flight varied between schools from a low of approximately 12 hours to a high of 22 hours with an average of approximately 18 hours." Additionally, FAA test pilots stated that, "...it is a fairly decent challenge to get a good flare in the Model XL-2. For a pilot with little experience, it may be tougher" and "The all-movable stabilator provides a lot of elevator power, and if the pilot is a little fast entering the flare, it is extremely easy to over control and get into a porpoise situation."
A complete summary of the FFI team’s findings, as cited in their report, is as follows:
-- The FAA Atlanta Certification Office (ACO) and FAA Orlando Manufacturing Inspections District Office (MIDO) have provided appropriate oversight to the certification and post-certification activities of the Model XL-2.
-- The 14 CFR part 23 certification requirements related to the complainant’s safety concerns were reviewed and determined to be in compliance. The FFI team did not find any specific safety concerns that have not been addressed.
-- To date, there were no safety related items discovered in the investigation that warrant conducting a special certification review.
-- The Model XL-2 is a technically advanced airplane and would benefit from the FAA Industry Training Standards (FITS) scenario-based training.
-- The airplane controls are more sensitive than other training airplanes, but the airplane meets 14 CFR Part 23, subpart B requirements and is an acceptable airplane for training.
-- Other flight schools operate the Model XL-2 airplane successfully in their pilot training programs. Several international aviation authorities have evaluated and issued type certificates for the Model XL-2, including the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
--The Model XL-2 accident / incident rates are comparable to those of similar airplanes.
In the report, FFI team pilots noted in part, the following:
--"The control responsiveness and crispness is still apparent at minimum controllable airspeeds associated with the landing flare. The crispness and instantaneous response of the airplane could potentially result in an over controlling tendency by the pilot."
--"A pilot attempting to recover from porpoising should immediately initiate a go-around. Proper training and experience are the best recovery techniques for this situation."
--"Instructors should provide student training in the bounced landing and go-around procedures."