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On March 19, 2011, about 1158 mountain standard time, a Cirrus SR-22, N329SM, was substantially damaged when it veered off the runway and struck an unoccupied, parked Cessna 172 during an attempted balked landing at Falcon Field (FFZ), Mesa, Arizona. The parked airplane, N2359Z, also sustained substantial damage. The certificated private pilot/owner, two passengers, and two dogs on board the Cirrus were not injured, and no persons on the ground were injured. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan was filed and activated for the flight.
According to the pilot, the Cirrus was based at FFZ, and the accident flight was the return leg of a trip to Steamboat Springs Airport (SBS), Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The pilot was seated in the left front seat, his 12-year-old grandson was in the right front seat and the pilot's wife and two dogs were in the rear seat. The flight departed SBS about 0915 MDT, and was conducted nonstop. The pilot utilized flight following services from air traffic control (ATC) for a majority of the trip. When he was within range of FFZ, the pilot contacted the FFZ air traffic control tower (ATCT) and was subsequently cleared to land on runway 22 left.
In his initial verbal statement to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the pilot stated that the approach to 22L was unremarkable, but that in the landing flare, the airplane "buoyed up," and he elected to abort the landing. He advised the ATCT of his intentions, and added power, but the engine "lost power" instead. The pilot reported that the power loss occurred about 5 to 6 feet above ground level (agl).
In a subsequent interview with a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector, the pilot reported that the airplane had just entered ground effect and "floated a little," when the pilot "felt something he didn’t like," and he aborted the landing by advancing the throttle and retracting the flaps. He reported that the airplane began to sink, and struck the runway.
In the pilot's final written account of the accident, he stated that he encountered an "unusual amount" of ground effect, and that he "added a small amount of power to try to overcome ground effect and land." When that failed, he opted to go around, but the airplane "didn't get any lift."
An ATCT controller who was not working the Cirrus first noticed the airplane when it began its balked landing. The controller reported that while maintaining a constant pitch attitude, the airplane reached an altitude that he estimated to be about 50 to 75 feet agl before the climb "flattened out." He reported that he saw the left wing drop, and the airplane enter a left turn
The airplane contacted the runway, veered to the left, and headed for the ramp area south of the runway. A pilot pre-flighting a Cessna 172 heard a scraping noise, and looked up to see the Cirrus sliding across the ramp towards him and his two passengers. He alerted the couple, and all three ran for safety. The Cirrus struck the Cessna and came to a stop. The Cessna pilot reported that when he saw it, the Cirrus appeared to be missing its nose gear and at least one main gear, but he did not recall whether the Cirrus' propeller was rotating.
According to the Cirrus pilot, he held a private pilot certificate with a single-engine airplane land rating. He reported a total flight experience of 509 hours, including 208 hours in the accident airplane make and model. His most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued in October 2009, and his most recent flight review was completed in December 2010.
According to FAA information, the Cirrus was manufactured in 2006 as serial number 2052, and was first registered to the pilot in 2008. It was equipped with a Teledyne Continental Motors (TCM) IO-550 series engine. Pilot-provided information indicated that as of its most recent annual inspection in December 2010, the Cirrus had accumulated a total time in service of 331 hours.
The FFZ 1210 special weather observation included winds from 260 degrees at 4 knots, visibility 20 miles, scattered clouds at 25,000 feet, temperature 23 degrees C, dew point -13 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 30.00 inches of mercury.
FAA information indicated that FFZ runway 22L measured 5,101 feet by 100 feet. It was paved with asphalt, and was dry at the time of the accident.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
According to the FAA inspector who responded to the accident, skid marks on the runway were consistent with an approximate midfield touchdown on both main landing gear. The skid marks/ground scars indicated that the airplane then bounced, and veered to the left. Those marks were also consistent with a failure of the landing gear early in the sequence of events.
The airplane came to rest upright on the ramp, about 3,600 feet from the runway 22L threshold, and about 500 feet southeast of the runway centerline. The nose and right main landing gear were fracture-separated from the airplane, and the left main landing gear was displaced aft and outboard. All three blades of the metal propeller were bent aft with some twist, and bore chordwise scoring, consistent with power at impact. About 5 feet of the leading edge of the right wing, outboard of the mid-span point, was crushed and fractured, and the lower surfaces of the fuselage and left wing were scored and/or fractured. The Cirrus' fuel tanks were not breached, and fuel was observed in both wing tanks. The quantity could not be determined due to the attitude of the airplane. The wing flaps were in the fully retracted position, and exhibited little or no damage. The two cabin doors opened and closed readily. The cabin and aft fuselage sustained only minor damage, and neither the seatbelt airbags nor the ballistic recovery parachute was deployed. The FAA inspector did not conduct a detailed examination of the engine on scene. Subsequent evaluation of the accident circumstances, including ground scars, airplane damage, and the pilot's final written statement, resulted in the decision that a follow-up engine examination was not warranted, and therefore a detailed engine examination was not conducted.
The empennage and aft fuselage of the Cessna were crumpled and otherwise deformed.
Cirrus POH Guidance
The manufacturer's Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) provided airplane operation procedures and performance information for landings and balked landings. According to the POH, landings were to be conducted with full ("100 %") flaps, and balked landings were to be accomplished with half ("50 %") flaps. For the ambient conditions, the POH data indicated that the total landing distance was approximately 2,400 feet, with a ground roll of approximately 1,250 feet. The available runway 25L length at FFZ was 5,101 feet.
According to the POH data, the climb gradient for the balked landing would have been about 1,000 feet per minute (fpm). The POH stated that the presented data was for certification purposes and was based on full flaps; "significantly better" performance could be achieved using the balked landing flap setting of half flaps, and a climb speed of approximately 76 knots. The POH did not provide takeoff or balked landing climb performance for zero (retracted) flaps.
The POH stall speed data for zero bank angle indicated that the zero (retracted), half, and full down flap stall speeds were approximately 69, 67 and 60 knots indicated air speed, respectively.
The FAA Airplane Flying Handbook (AFH, FAA-H-8083) subsection entitled "Floating During Roundout" stated that "If the airspeed on final approach is excessive, it will usually result in the airplane floating," and that judgment or timing errors "will result in either ballooning or bouncing." The AFH stated that "the recovery from floating will depend on the amount of floating and the effect of any crosswind, as well as the amount of runway remaining… If a landing cannot be made on the first third of the runway, or the airplane drifts sideways, the pilot should EXECUTE A GO-AROUND." (emphasis original)
According to the AFH, ground effect is a condition of improved performance due to reduced drag when the airplane is operating very close to the ground. The drag reduction results in a decreased deceleration rate, and the airplane will tend to remain airborne longer (float) during landing attempts. Floating is amplified by excess airspeed. The AFH stated that if the go-around is made close to the ground, the airplane may be in ground effect, and that an attempt to climb prematurely may result in the airplane "not being able to climb, or even maintain altitude at full power."
In summary, the AFH cited several common errors in the performance of balked landings, including:
- Failure to recognize a condition that warrants a rejected landing.
- Delay in initiating a go-around.
- Failure to configure the airplane appropriately.
- Attempting to climb out of ground effect prematurely.